It wasn’t until my chat last weekend with DC’s original mermaid Morgana Alba that I realized my affinity for the mythical creatures wasn’t all that unique. In fact, when I waxed nostalgic about growing up on The Little Mermaid and spending my moody middle school years reading Francesca Lia Block YA novels, Alba told me with some quiet assurance that my story sounded very familiar. And then it struck me that what I always thought was a quirky penchant for aquatic folklore was actually a shared millennial phenomenon, a form of escapism – or a firm embrace of an expansive fantasy world, depending on how you want to frame it – and one that drew Alba and other professional mermaids to a career in water performance.
This weekend, Alba and her Circus Siren Pod merteam – pro mermaids, bubble artists and water-based acrobats that make up one arm of Circus Siren Entertainment – will descend upon The Freedom Center in Manassas for the three-day MerMagic Con. Mermaid enthusiasts and performers alike are invited to mingle and participate in programming that runs the gamut from an open swim for the pros to how to choose the right mermaid tail for you. If you feel like getting fancy, wear your mermaid best to the Mermaid Gala at Wyndham Garden Manassas this Saturday, February 23 (Alba will be easy to spot in custom-made chain mail). Read on for Alba’s insight into why mermaiding is on the rise – so much so that she left her gig as a consultant for Microsoft to go full-time mermaid – and a sneak peek of what this weekend has in store for merheads. And check back here on Monday, February 25 for Shantel Mitchell Breen’s photo gallery of the weekend’s festivities.
On Tap: How did you become such a prominent mermaid in the DC area?
Morgana Alba: A lot of it has to do with being first, honestly. I started in mermaiding in 2012 and that was before it had really taken off as a performance art. It was kind of the Wild West of a new developing art form, and a lot of people had to forge paths for themselves.
OT: What is mermaiding exactly?
MA: You have to think of it as a genre rather than an art by itself. You have mermaid models, you have performing mermaids that swim, you have people who make the tails – and all of it is art in its own way. But they’re not all the same kind of mermaid.
OT: Pardon the pun, but what do your mermaids’ performances entail?
MA: We do synchronized swim shows and we have a woman who does bubble contortion – she’s got a bubble that floats on the water, and we’ll put mermaids in that from time to time as well. There’s a lot of flips and tricks.
OT: How did you build your team?
MA: Most of the performers on my team are people I knew through other performance art as aerialists or human statues who I hunted down and trained as mermaids because I knew this was brewing. I had more mermaid gigs than I could physically personally do, so the demand was there. But I come at it from the casino and festival background, so I was looking to really create it as an art form of its own.
OT: Why is the demand for pro mermaids picking up?
MA: Mermaids have always been around. Every culture on the planet has some sort of legend that’s mermaid-related, so I think it’s something that’s fascinated humans for a very long time. But in the last couple of years, between the invention of less-expensive fabric tail options that are more available and the fact that mermaids who started out as performers back in the early 2000s have gotten more and more traction – just in this past Super Bowl, there were two different mermaid commercials – it’s definitely becoming more popular. In the coming year, they’re doing the live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid and they’re rebooting Splash. I think it’s only going to continue to grow as more people discover it as a hobby.
OT: What demographic is mermaiding most popular with?
MA: I’ve done a number of studies on millennials – who are now one of the biggest buying powers in the country – and they’re big into escapism. Look at the way Comic-Cons and cosplay have grown. This is an intersection between cosplay and athleticism.
OT: What can we expect from MerMagic Con?
MA: The convention is really the first of its kind in that it’s more than just people who love mermaids get together. It actually has a lot of education around it. If you are a mermaid who wants to improve your safety skills or learn how to ethically interact with wildlife, there are classes for you to grow as a performer. But if you’ve never put on a tail before and just think mermaids are cool, we’ve got classes that will put you into a tail for the first time and teach you how to swim. So it’s really a way that anybody who’s even a little interested in it – or anyone who has made it their life – can have something new to learn.
OT: What’s in store for the hardcore mermaid fan?
MA: We’ve got a couple cool things for people who have been hardcore mermaid fans their whole lives. One of them is that we have the illustrator who drew Ariel for Disney’s The Little Mermaid. He’ll be giving a lecture on bringing The Little Mermaid to life. There’s also a number of vendors that I’m really excited about: people who make tails, people who make personalized mermaid art. All of these wonderful artisans from around the country are coming in to give people a chance to bring something home that’s their very own.
OT: What about Saturday’s Mermaid Gala?
MA: I would describe the dress code for the gala as Gaga-esque. You can’t possibly overdo it when it comes to your mermaid gala outfit. We have people coming in full-blown wedding gowns and people coming in nothing but body paint. The fashion is going to be mermaid haute couture. I’m supporting two different small businesses: a designer I love and a chain-mail artist. I’m wearing a combination of a beautiful skirt and a lot of chain mail.
OT: Why should mermaid newbies check out MerMagic Con?
MA: Mermaids are for everyone. The thing about mermaids – and the fact that they come from so many different mythologies and legends – is that there’s a mermaid archetype out there that you’re going to identify with. If you want to be the dark, dangerous siren of the deep who lures men to their doom a la Pirates of the Caribbean, there’s people that are into that aesthetic and those legends that will be your new mermaid family. If you prefer the Disney version of mermaids where they’re just fun and playful and you just want to put on a tail and splash around, there are people with that aesthetic. This is really something that I think adults of all walks of life gravitate toward because at the end of the day, there’s a mermaid out there for anyone.
Channel your inner mermaid this Friday, February 22 to Sunday, February 24 at Alba’s MerMagic Con at The Freedom Center in Manassas, and don’t miss the Mermaid Gala at the Wyndham Garden Manassas on Saturday, February 23 from 9 p.m. to midnight. Buy tickets here, and learn more about Alba and her Circus Siren Pod here.